News misses nuance on USPS


The Detroit News recently published two op-ed pieces about U.S. Postal Service finances; one by Shawn McCoy on Jan. 13 and another by Don Soifer on Dec. 31.

Neither accurately depicted the agency's financial status, especially Soifer's, which spoke of a "calamitous" loss of money and the supposed risk for taxpayers.

The Postal Service is older than the country itself, delivers to 153 million homes and businesses six and increasingly seven days a week. It provides Americans with the world's most affordable delivery network, and is consistently rated by the public as the most trusted federal agency. However, the conventional wisdom is highly misleading.

Here are some facts.

The Postal Service, which supports itself by revenue earned from selling stamps – not by taxpayer money – had an operating profit of $1.4 billion in its recently completed Fiscal Year. It's been operationally profitable since October 2012.

As the economy gradually improves from the worst recession in 80 years, letter revenue is again rising.

Meanwhile, as folks in Detroit and elsewhere increasingly shop online, package revenue is skyrocketing. That makes the Internet a net positive for USPS – auguring well for the future.

Eliminating Saturday delivery, as the Postal Service and some lawmakers propose, would take a heavy toll on the elderly and on rural areas, as well as on Detroit's small businesses, which are open weekends.

Ending door-to-door delivery would force Michiganians to traipse around neighborhoods in Michigan weather, seeking "cluster boxes." And slowing the mail by closing 82 processing plants around the country, as the Postal Service plans, is illogical.

Such actions would send the Postal Service itself into a downward spiral, by driving mail and revenue away.

And they'd cost jobs. The national mailing industry, which depends on a robust, six-days-a-week Postal Service, employs 7.5 million Americans in the private sector – including 226,223 in Michigan.

There is red ink, but it stems from politics, not the mail. In 2006, a lame-duck Congress mandated that the Postal Service prefund future retiree health benefits. No other agency or company is required to prefund for even one year; the Postal Service has to prefund 75 years into the future and pay for it all in a 10-year period. That $5.6 billion annual charge is the red ink.

Michigan's representatives in Washington should take a common-sense approach by addressing the prefunding fiasco.

Fredric Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Washington, D.C.